Cambridge University releases statement rejecting denigration of Regeni’s supervisor

Molly Moss 17 January 2018

The University of Cambridge yesterday released a statement rejecting “disturbing” efforts to implicate Giulio Regeni’s supervisor Dr Maha Abdelrahman directly in his murder, as part of a continuing campaign to repudiate allegations made against the academic.

Regeni, a PhD student at Girton College, was found tortured and brutally murdered on the outskirts of Cairo in February 2016 after travelling to Egypt the previous month. In the aftermath of his death, Italian police launched a murder inquiry which is still underway.

The statement has been released by Cambridge University following allegations against Regeni’s supervisor Dr Maha Abdelrahman, a witness in the investigation, in Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper on 2 November 2017. Despite evidence incriminating Egypt’s security forces in the murder, La Repubblica’s article accuses Dr Abdelrahman of commissioning Regeni to research a dangerous topic that he was reluctant to pursue. As a result, the Cambridge academic has been the subject of national media attention.

The statement, sent from the Vice-Chancellor of the University Stephen J Toope to the academic community, condemns the public denigration of Dr Abdelrahman as “shameful” and “fanned by political expediency”, particularly in light of “her willingness to assist”.

Toope goes on to say that: "Public speculation about Dr Abdelrahman’s involvement in the case has been inaccurate, damaging and potentially dangerous. It stems from a fundamental misapprehension about the nature of academic research. It demonstrates a lack of understanding of scholarly aims and methods. It shows a failure to understand the intellectual relationship between a PhD student and his or her supervisor.

"It is not uncommon for academic research in the humanities and social sciences to impinge on politically sensitive issues. Giulio was an experienced researcher, who had already spent time in Egypt, and was a fluent Arabic speaker. He was using standard academic methods to study trade unions in Egypt."

The statement also says that “the University of Cambridge have repeatedly expressed their willingness to cooperate with the investigation” and that Dr Abdelrahman has “voluntarily handed over material” requested by the Italian authorities.

Toope insists that “The University will of course continue to assist authorities as they seek justice for Giulio and his family. It will also defend the right of academics to engage in legitimate and lawful research, wherever they wish to do so."

In November 2017, 44 academics signed an open letter in support of Dr. Abdelrahman. The letter, published in The Guardian, rejected "the malicious and unfounded allegations made against Dr Maha Abdelrahman in Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper on 2 November 2017”, and asserted that “Giulio nor Dr Abdelrahman were responsible for his death in any way.”

The university's statement is a further rejection of the allegations made against Dr Abdelrahman. Toope ends the statement by insisting that “this brutal killing calls for justice”, but that “justice will not be served by undermining the very thing that drove Giulio in his brief but inspiring academic career – the search for truth."